Archive for November, 2008
The 46 Free Desktop Software Applications, Webapps, and Projects We’re Most Thankful For
- Firefox (see also: The Power User’s Guide to Firefox 3)
- VLC Media Player (see also: Master Your Digital Media with VLC)
- Ubuntu (see also: Hardy Heron Makes Linux Worth Another Look)
- Open Office (see also: A First Look at OpenOffice.org 3.0)
- Pidgin (see also: Ten Must-Have Plug-ins to Power Up Pidgin)
- Launchy (see also: Take Launchy beyond application launching)
- Digsby (see also: Digsby Improves Performance, Supports LinkedIn)
- Gmail (see also: Our full Gmail coverage)
- Adium (see also: Adium Chat Improves Menu Bar Item, Corrects Your IM Grammar )
- CCleaner (see also: CCleaner 2.0 Decrapifies Your PC)
- Picasa (see also: Organize your digital photos with Picasa)
- AutoHotKey (see also: Turn Any Action into a Keyboard Shortcut)
- Quicksilver (see also: A beginner’s guide to Quicksilver)
- Foobar 2000 (see also: Roll your own killer audio player with foobar2000)
- Thunderbird (see also: Eight killer Thunderbird extensions)
- 7-Zip (see also: Top 10 Windows Downloads, #10: 7-Zip (file archive manager) )
- DropBox (see also: Dropbox Syncs and Backs Up Files Between Computers Instantaneously)
- uTorrent (see also: Our complete uTorrent coverage )
- Winamp (see also: Our complete Winamp coverage)
- Google Apps
- AVG Antivirus (see also: AVG Free Anti-Virus 2008 Released, Much Improved)
- Evernote (see also: Expand Your Brain with Evernote)
- IrfanView (see also: Download of the Day: IrfanView (Windows) )
- Opera (see also: Opera Updates to Version 9.6, Gets Faster, Adds Features)
- Chrome (see also: The Power User’s Guide to Google Chrome)
- Google Calendar (see also: Black-belt scheduling with Google Calendar)
- HandBrake (see also: HandBrake Media Converter Gets Even Better)
- Skype (see also: Our complete Skype coverage)
- Linux (see also: Our complete Linux coverage)
- Paint.NET (see also: Top 10 Windows Downloads, #3: Paint.NET )
- Ad-Aware (see also: Cleanse thy PC with Ad-Aware)
- Avast Antivirus (see also: Download of the Day: Avast anti-virus)
- Google Docs (see also: Our complete Google Docs coverage)
- LogMeIn (see also: Use LogMeIn for remote tech support)
- Transmission (see also: Manage Your BitTorrent Downloads with Transmission)
- TrueCrypt (see also: Secure your data with TrueCrypt)
- Amarok (see also: An Early Look at Amarok 2)
- FileZilla (see also: FTP File Transfer Across Platforms with Filezilla 3.0)
- Notepad++ (see also: Top 10 Windows Downloads, #6: Notepad++)
- PortableApps.com (see also: Download of the Day: PortableApps Suite 1.0 (Windows))
- Rocket Dock (see also: Download of the Day: RocketDock (Windows))
- Spybot Search & Destroy (see also: Spybot Search and Destroy crushes evil)
- UltraVNC (see also: Tech support with UltraVNC SingleClick)
- VirtualBox (see also: VirtualBox 2.0 Adds 64-bit Support, Updated Interface)
A simple interface is based on Microsoft’s .NET framework and features a dark gray background and large easy-to-read buttons for the programs feature set. Images are displayed as thumbnails, so you can flip through pages if you’re just looking to browse. Some editing tools are available for red-eye correction and image rotation, and you can sort photos into groups made easily accessible on the bottom of the interface. Photology’s true strength is its capability to quickly sort through giant photo libraries and find images fitting a specific criterion. You can sort by date, time of day, indoor or outdoor location, and content such as faces, flowers, and sunsets. Users can also search by name for previously-labeled images.
Those are a bit basic compared with the coolest thing that Photology knows how to do. You can search by color, simply by using a mouse-over tool to select different gradations. Though some may be turned off by the required extra download of the .NET framework, this program is a great choice for anyone wishing to collect photos and search a large image library.
Speed is the main story here, with text, photos, and audio notes uploading faster than before. Of course, depending on your carrier and the phone’s capabilities, this still may not be as rapid as it is on the highest-end Windows phones.
The Evernote for Windows Mobile 22.214.171.124 also improves the interface, a spare but attractive app consisting of four actions to take various notes or upload a file from the phone’s folder, in addition to two soft-key buttons.
One key lets you view and search notes created on the desktop, Web site, or your phone. Thumbnail images and the ability to search notes directly from Evernote are two additions–previous versions rebounded you to the Web to view search results. From Evernote’s menu, you can click to view recent notes, settings, and, now, your saved search results.
Evernote never worked as well on Windows Mobile phones as it did on the desktop, Web, and iPhone, but this effort is the publisher’s new personal best for the platform. Much more can be accomplished without leaving the application, but there’s still room for growth.
For example, playing back a voice note requires you to download the audio first. That’s a more time-consuming and space-sapping event than viewing an image or text note, especially if you created the recording from your phone in the first place and have simply used Evernote as a holding pen. I’d love to see Evernote host an instant-playback feature that can optionally just play the file without saving it.
Evernote’s applications and basic 40MB bandwidth-per-month membership are free. A premium membership offering 500MB per month rings in at $5 per month or $45 for the year.
The redesign makes the site look a little slicker, and certainly accentuates Drop.io’s "easy to use" mantra. It’s also clearly a consumer-oriented product now–in comparison, the old design looks like a back-end content management system. That’s good, because the company hopes to appeal to Luddites as well as techies. (For a business model, Drop.io offers premium accounts that get rid of the 100MB free account storage limit.)
Feature-wise, it’s pretty much the same, but Drop.io’s team has said that it’s "about a thousand times more customizable and useful" thanks to a newly reorganized dashboard. They also say that the speed of the site should also be a notch higher.
File delivery service YouSendIt announced Thursday that it has released a plug-in for Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007 that will allow users to send any file from Word, Excel, or PowerPoint to recipients through the company’s service.
Based on my testing, the plug-in, which requires registration to download, works quite well. After surfing over to the company’s plug-in page, which is already populated with other plug-ins for iPhoto, Outlook, Photoshop, and others, I downloaded the file in seconds.
Once installed, the plug-in embeds itself in Microsoft Office. On my version of Office 2007, I found YouSendIt’s plug-in added under the "Send to" menu, allowing me to send a file through the YouSendIt service without requiring me to surf to the company’s page.
As soon as I was ready to send a file and clicked the "YouSendIt" button, the company’s Express software popped-up immediately, asking me to input my username and password. Once complete, the process mimics YouSendIt’s online version: I input the e-mail address of the recipient, decided how long the document should be preserved for, and sent it. A progress bar displays how much time is left before the document is sent.
There’s not much to the YouSendIt plug-in. In essence, it provides you with another alternative to send files. And although I usually send documents and spreadsheets through Office’s "Send to email" feature, YouSendIt’s plug-in came in handy when I needed to send a large PowerPoint presentation that the recipient’s e-mail couldn’t handle.
Just like the online service, the recipient receives an e-mail containing a link to download the file, which saves them some valuable in-box space.
Overall, the process to send files was quick and I didn’t recognize any lag time between starting the process and completing the file transfer. That said, YouSendIt capped the file size limit at 2GB, which might upset those who need to send huge PowerPoint presentations. But for most us, 2GB is more than enough.
YouSendIt’s Office plug-in isn’t necessarily a "must have" tool, since I found that more often than not, sending e-mail through Word or Excel is sufficient. But because there are larger files that sometimes crop up, it doesn’t hurt to have it installed just in case.
The Office plug-in is available now on YouSendIt’s site as a free download after registration.
The popular Outlook extension Xobni (download) is getting hooks into additional data sources. The service, which to date has given users historial detail about the people they communicate with in e-mail, is now extending its lookup to more social networks and other data sources.
Now, when a user is viewing a person’s record, in addition to showing the user the Outlook history, it will also look up communications with that person on Yahoo Mail, and let you connect with them on Skype.
More interesting, I think, is its expanding hooks into social networks: In addition to its previous LinkedIn support, it will now troll through Facebook and return information about a highlighted user, such as their recent status message and picture.
The product can also look up the company the contact is affiliated with on Hoovers, and display that info in your sidebar.
Although Xobni now grabs data from more sources, it is still only a tool for users of Outlook. I’ve heard that support for Web e-mail (Google and Yahoo) is coming.
Read previous Xobni coverage.
Xobni will now look up data on your contacts’ employers.
It will also give you their e-mail history from Yahoo Mail as well as Outlook.
When Microsoft shipped the 6801 build of Windows 7 some of the unfinished features were hidden from view using an elaborate protection mechanism. This mechanism has now been rendered useless thanks to the work of Rafael Rivera who developed a tool called Blue Badge.
Understanding the risks involved in patching core system files, you may download a copy of the tool for x86 or x64 (both rev. 2). Please keep in mind this tool is not affiliated, sponsored, supported by, written by, or endorsed by Microsoft Corporation.
If you work in a corporate culture that’s fond of meetings, or an industry that involves lots of long-distance collaboration, you’ve no doubt heard an increasing amount about "webinars" lately. The web-based meetings, usually involving collaborative editing, whiteboard brainstorming, slideshow presentations, and/or live desktop sharing, are helpful when teaching a computer concept or technique, providing a one-way presentation a la PowerPoint, or presenting ideas and getting feedback from clients. Lots of providers compete for the largely corporate market, but at least one site, DimDim, provides free web conference hosting for groups of 20 or less. We gave one of them a try and took a few screenshots, so read on to see what you can get for free in the webinar world.
DimDim not only offers free sign-ups for those wanting to host seminars for up to 20 participants, but offers up its hosting platform for free as an open source package, for those with the server space to do something with it. DimDim doesn’t ask much more than a username, email, and password, and only from the host—those you invite to join only need to hit a connection link in the email that gets sent out when your webinars are scheduled and then starting.
The system requirements for anyone participating are basically having a decently high-speed connection and be using either Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari. If a host wants to screencast their desktop, it usually requires a separate (free) program to be downloaded and launched automatically.
Each sign-up also gets a unique access key for conference calling—the old style of tele-conferencing. I tried calling in while hosting a meeting, but ended up being alone in a conference call, waiting for others to join. So either DimDim is offering this functionality as a separate enticement for lower-tech users, or I’m not quite doing it right (equally likely).
You can set up DimDim conferences in a lot of different ways, depending on your own setup and those of your participants. You can go audio & video, audio-only, or none of the above, if you just want to text-chat. You can rotate three microphone privileges amongst three other participants, choose whether your guests can see each other or not, and (perhaps the most helpful feature) set a time limit to your meeting, which ticks away in the upper-right corner and might help everyone stay a bit more focused.
I tested DimDim out with my (very patient) wife sitting in the same room and a friend connecting from across the city. Two were on residential cable connections and the third on DSL. The whiteboard, chat, and audio functions were surprisingly snappy and responsive, though I found out that using my laptop’s built-in microphone and speakers was a bad idea on many levels—everybody could hear the pounding of my typing, and there were a number of looping echos. The desktop view sharing from my system was a bit laggy, however, and occasionally required my asking the guests to manually hit "refresh" in the main window. That’s using residential upload speeds, though, and dependent on what else was uploading at the time.
Here’s a full shot of DimDim in action, scaled just a bit to fit on this page. (Note: I lack a decent webcam, so we used another participant’s camera to try out video conferencing, not shown in this shot):
In all, I found DimDim to give its free users a surprising amount of flexibility and functionality for the price, and would be interested to find out what options set apart the other webinar-hosting companies in the field.
Got any tips or experiences to share in hosting web conferences? Wish you weren’t invited to so many? Tell us your take on webinars in the comments.
Today, the Windows Live team announced a brand-new photo-sharing service that integrates directly with the Windows Live Photo Gallery desktop software, a part of the Windows Live client applications. (More info on Photo Gallery is here). Simply called Windows Live Photos, the new online service lets you upload photos directly from your computer and create and manage online galleries of photos.
The online service mirrors some of the functions of the desktop software – for example, you can tag people in your photos, tag yourself, or rename the photo’s title. However, the online gallery also provides new features like the ability to add comments to the photos or copy an embed code for posting your photos elsewhere on the web. There’s a photo URL provided, too, if you just want to link to the photo itself.
Through Live Photos’ privacy controls, you can specify who, if anyone, has access to your photos and what they can do – view, edit, delete, download, etc.
One of the best features in the new service, though, is definitely the photo slideshow, which you can launch at anytime from the “More” menu. The slideshow is easy to click through with its navigation buttons at the bottom or you can let it auto-play. When you’re finished viewing the images, you can easily return to your photo gallery either by clicking the link provided or just hitting “escape.”
The new Live Photos service will also be available from the new Windows Live homepage, also announced today.
Amid all the news last week about the upcoming new Windows Live and new Windows Live Photos service, one thing that may have been overlooked is how Windows Live SkyDrive was tied into those announcements. According to a post on the SkyDrive team blog, the team is increasing the amount of online storage from 5 GB to 25 GB! The reason for the increase is to provide more room for all the photos that will soon be uploaded using the new online photo service.
In addition to the storage increase, the SkyDrive service will also offer more features like the ability to download photos directly from SkyDrive to your Windows Live Photo Gallery desktop software. You can also choose to download entire folders as zip files, move files between folders, and copy files to multiple folders.
Another big revamp involves the sharing features and functionality. With the new SkyDrive, you’ll be able to share files and photos with others without requiring them to use a Windows Live ID. If you have certain groups of people that you share photos with on regular basis, you’ll be able to organize them into groups to make repeat sharing easier and faster. And you can see what your family and friends have shared with you all in one place. Commenting on photos will be improved with HTML, spam control and other options.
For Internet Explorer users, there will be an option to keep your IE favorites in sync in between all your computers, too.
The new SkyDrive will have a new look-and-feel when it relaunches so it fits in better with the rest of the new Windows Live. It’s not here yet, but, according to the team blog post, it will be here soon. Stay tuned!
Have you been eying the new Windows 7 features with envy? Well, now you can get at least one of them on your Vista computer: Aero Shake. Over at LifeHacker, they’ve released an app that lets you shake your active window to minimize all the other open windows, just like in Windows 7. Shake again, and the other windows will be restored. Simply called the Shake app, the software was written in AutoHotkey and the source code is available for addition to your main AHK script if desired. But for most of us, the downloadable .exe file will work better.
Before you download, though, be aware that this app is still a little “rough around the edges” they warn, and some commenters have reported issues with its use. In our tests, it worked OK, but maybe a little slow. It also hid the sidebar! However, it definitely gets us excited to get our hands on Windows 7 so we can finally enjoy the real Aero Shake and all its other cool features too.
From the Windows Vista Team Blog, I learned of Witty, a Twitter client for Vista. The software, powered by the Windows Presentation Foundation built into Windows Vista, runs like a "real" application and like some apps, can be minimized to the system tray. Like most Twitter apps, Witty lets you post updates, view timelines, view replies, respond to direct messages, and open links in your browser. However, Witty has some more unique features that make it stand out like the skinning capabilities, fade techniques, spell checking, the ability to remember the window location & size, and a whole bunch of keyboard shortcuts. You can download Witty here.
1. Standard approach to mobile broadband
Windows 7 treats cellular modems as a standard connection, much like a Wi-Fi network, popping them up in the same available wireless networks dialog.
Sierra Wireless has already said it will support the new approach, which should make life much easier for road warriors (myself included). One of my few gripes about the prebeta Windows 7 laptop I’m using is that it doesn’t recognize my relatively new USB Sprint modem.
2. Help with public Wi-Fi spots.
This was a little feature I discovered on my own. With many public Wi-Fi hot spots, once you connect to the network, you have to do something in your browser, such as agree to certain terms or enter a password. Windows 7 pops up a notification that tells you that, although you have to be connected to the network, more action may be needed and it gives you a direct link to open your browser.
When logging onto a Wi-Fi network that requires additional information via a browser, Windows 7 pops up this warning. (Click on image for a short photo gallery.)
3. Windows Troubleshooting
Sure, it would be better if your computer worked problem-free. But, acknowledging that’s not the case, Microsoft has added a central place in Windows 7 to try to figure out what went wrong and why.
Among the kinds of problems that Windows Troubleshooting aims to help solve are issues with networked printers, detecting hard drive problems, and even some proactive things, like figuring out how much life a laptop battery has before it will likely need to be replaced with a new battery.
4. New sensor support
Windows 7 adds base-level support for all kinds of sensors, from GPS, to fingerprint readers, to ambient light sensors, to accelerometers. Light sensors, for example, can now be used not only to light up a keyboard, but an application could sense daylight and make type larger so that it’s easier to read.
At WinHEC, Microsoft handed out 700 free sensor developer kits that included a light sensor, touch pad, and accelerometer. The kit was a big hit with the developers, prompting one of the only long lines of the show.
5. Improved battery life and playback of DVDs
Microsoft is trying to do a couple things to make the DVD-playing experience better in Windows 7.
First and foremost, it has changed things so that DVD movies just start playing, as opposed to bringing up a long list of options.
Second, the company has worked to adjust power settings while playing back movies to enable better battery life.
"I’m hopeful it will have battery life equivalent to a portable DVD player," Microsoft’s Jon DeVaan said in an interview. The issue is personal, he said. If Microsoft can reach its goal, he might be able to only bring a laptop on outings. "I hope to spare my back on family trips," he said.
6. Windows Biometric Framework
According to a press release from fingerprint sensor make AuthenTec, the operating system features improved biometric support that should enable a more standard way for fingerprint management applications to work with fingerprint readers in Windows 7.
"This provides ease of fingerprint sensor integration for PC manufacturers and a more consistent user experience," AuthenTec said in its release.
7. Enhancements to Windows Media Center
Microsoft hasn’t given up on its dream of having Windows gain a prominent spot in the living room and its main effort in this area–Windows Media Center–is back in Windows 7.
BetaNews has a look at some of the new features, including support for H.264 video, an on-screen keyboard, and better method of scrolling through large libraries.
No word on whether the new Media Center will offer the long-anticipated support for DirecTV.
Unless you’re a financial Jedi Knight or economic Sith Lord, you probably don’t have a ton of control over our turbulent economy. What you can reign over is your spending and saving—and when you know where they are, you can take advantage of deep discounts and general freebies across the web. Even you’re not much for coupons and you’re occasionally unable to resist splurging on a new tech toy, you can save some serious cash on many purchases, or avoid them entirely, by spending a few minutes online. Check out some of our favorite current free or cheap deals and low-hassle discounts for your weekend viewing. Don’t dawdle, though, because some deals are ending soon. The full list is below. Photo by jswieringa.
10. Get 15-30% off laptop art.
If you’ve spent any time in a Wi-Fi-providing coffee shop, you know that MacBooks look a lot alike, and the most creative most folks get with their rigs is usually a single-color skin. Break your laptop out of conformity at Infectious.com, which is offering 15 to 30 percent off adhesive art, including stick-ons for laptops and walls. The skins, on sale through Nov. 4, tend toward the feminine, but the gallery is pretty intriguing to flip through—and imagine your own gear sporting an eye-grabbing, easily-identifiable look.
9. Get free AT&T Wi-Fi on an iPhone at Starbucks and other nationwide hotspots.
After two false starts, AT&T started offering free Wi-Fi service to iPhone owners at their hotspots at Starbucks and Barnes & Noble and other locations earlier this week. Unfortunately for those of us who relished the idea of browser-tweaking freebies on laptops, this iteration uses a text message to confirm one’s iPhone-having-ness. Still, it’s a faster connection at a wide selection of hotspots, and laptop-luggers only need to spend even the tiniest bit each month off a Starbucks gift card to get a month’s worth of two-hour passes.
8. Get your real free credit report.
If you’re looking for the federally-mandated, completely free, no-service-cancellation-needed online credit report you’re entitled to once per year, head to AnnualCreditReport.com. Use it as explanatory ammo when applying for a loan, see what issues are waiting to be settled, and avoid the temptation of a smirking dilettante who wants to sign you up for an easy-to-miss yearly credit protection fee.
7. Get free or cheap books.
For those willing to look, new and used books you’ve been meaning to read can be had for the price of one of your barely-touched tomes, a postage fee, or just a pittance for downloading. PaperbackSwap (which deals with hardcovers as well) is a neat system, where mailing books out gets you credits you can "spend" to receive them, with no transaction fees, and print-and-mail forms handily provided. BookMooch works much the same, except the organizers say you can maintain a 2-to-1 ratio of received to sent books with your credits. Check out screenshots of those services and other free and cheap means of finding books, both print and audio, at our free/cheap book photo gallery.
6. Get $50 off an Amazon Kindle thanks to Oprah.
Oprah Winfrey announced last week that her favorite gadget had no 3G connectivity and a pretty low-power graphics processor—the Amazon Kindle, an online/offline e-reading device that’s more than just a flat screen you can hold. To entice her viewers and Book Club readers into checking it out, her site offers a coupon code–
OPRAHWINFREY—that gets a buyer $50 off the normally $359 Kindle. The code expires today (Nov. 1, 2008), however, so if you’re thinking about getting your eyes off the back-lit screen for a bit, now’s the time to grab one of these nifty gadgets. Here’s more on how the Kindle can save you time (and perhaps money).
5. Ship online purchases for free.
FreeShipping.org is one of those URLs that you could imagine turning into a veritable spam factory, but it thankfully hosts a roundup of free shipping coupons found for more than 600 stores. If you think you can do better, or your online merchant isn’t covered, also check with Free Shipping On, which sometimes hosts different versions of similar coupons. If you’re buying from Amazon, though, and you’re just a few bucks short of hitting your free shipping target, try the Amazon Filler Item Finder, which takes in a dollar amount and shoots back hopefully useful plug-ins to save money and get you more gear.
4. Get a year of free online Carbonite backup with a LaCie drive.
It normally costs $49.95 to back up unlimited data for one year to Carbonite, which runs at least second place amongst our backup-savvy readers. At the moment, though, any external hard drive purchase from LaCie comes with a CD enabling one free year of service. So for the price of something you might’ve bought anyways, you get both external and remote automated backups—pretty much the gold standard of data safety. Carbonite is currently Windows-only, but soon to be Mac-compatible.
3. Get Microsoft Office at 91% off.
Microsoft wants college students to get familiar with their Office lineup—Word, Excel, PowerPoint, et al.—so they’ll be more apt to use and buy it in their professional futures. College students usually need some kind of official Office product at some point in their studies, and they don’t have a lot of cash. Those major forces meet up at "The Ultimate Steal," in which the Redmond giant gives away its Office Ultimate 2007 package for $59.95 to anyone with a valid .edu address. The real deal, however, is that it seems any old .edu email—including the alumni accounts usually given
away for free—get you through the door. One neat combination of Office tools is used by our own Jason Fitzpatrick, who gets things done with Outlook and OneNote 2007.
2. Keep a real web site with a custom domain for $10/year.
In the way-early days of the web, having your "own web site" meant you were all kinds of experienced with servers, protocols, and rack mounting. These days, you don’t even need your own hosted space to maintain a web presence—blogging platforms, page creators, and Google apps (out the wazoo) are practically begging to do all the heavy-code-lifting for you. With a $10-per-year domain name purchase (and some can be found cheaper), anyone who hasn’t dipped their toes into reclaiming or parking their name online can do so without spending a penny more. Reference Gina’s guide to hosting your domain with free apps. If you want to get really DIY on it, you can still host your web content yourself by assigning a domain name to your home server.
1. Choose free software and service alternatives over paid versions.
We highlight free software—both the "as in beer" and "as in speech" varieties—every day at Lifehacker, because a good software solution can save a needy person serious dough. Our compiled free replacements for paid software pulled down $225 worth of software and services, and ran through the free alternatives for Flickr Pro accounts, push email, and simple remote desktop connectors. Our readers had their own libre workarounds as well, suggesting more than $310 in savings on screen capture tools, hard drive imaging, and Slingbox-like streaming video.
What recent or evergreen deals do you turn to when you’re looking to save a few dollars? What deal-finder apps or sites are your first stop for frugality? Spread the wealth in the comments.
Taking a cue from real-world Post-it notes, Stick provides an equivalent product for your computer desktop. A few differences from other sticky note programs make this a valuable asset for any PC.
The most noticeable is that notes, when closed, turn into tabs you can then append to the sides of your screen. This makes keeping your desktop tidy a snap. In addition to basic text notes, you also can create Explorer notes, which are actual Windows Explorer windows. You can navigate the file system from within these or even use them for Web browsing.
Each note features a variety of customization options such as window color, transparency, auto-hiding, and font choices. Though it does lack a few features of the more advanced sticky note apps, you should give Stick a try for its ease of use and excellent implementation of tabs.